Episode 31: Willpower – How to Avoid Using It

Steve leads this episode to talk about Willpower, how it works, and how to avoid using it. We take some tangents around science, the replication crisis, and addiction.

According to most psychological scientists (source), willpower can be defined as:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behaviour rather than a “hot” emotional system
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted


  • Bionics: In medicine, bionics means the replacement or enhancement of organs or other body parts by mechanical versions. Bionic implants differ from mere prostheses by mimicking the original function very closely, or even surpassing it.
  • Review of Reviews – From “Decoding the Gurus” a great podcast that looks at modern day secular gurus
  • Willpower Definition Steve used.
  • Daniel Kahneman’s proposal from Thinking Fast and Slow:
    • System 1: Fast; unconscious, automatic, effortless
    • System 2: Slow; deliberate and conscious, effortful, controlled mental process, rational thinking
  • Sympathetic Nervous System: Functions to regulate the body’s unconscious actions. The sympathetic nervous system’s primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight or flight response.
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System: responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious actions. The parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion, and defecation.
  • Hot-Cold Empathy Gap: a cognitive bias in which people underestimate the influences of visceral drives on their own attitudes, preferences, and behaviors.
  • Jonathan Haidt, most notably wrote The Righteous Mind and Coddling of the American Mind
  • Sean Spicer was President Trump’s Press Secreatry from Dec 22, 2016 until he resigned July 21st, 2017.
  • Roy Baumeister: an American social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality and sex differences, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, aggression, consciousness, and free will.
  • Ego Depletion: the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up (with the word “ego” used in the psychoanalytic sense rather than the colloquial sense).
  • Metaphorical Truths: Ideas that may not be factually/literally true, but it’s an enabling belief that helps you to act as you should and is helpful to believe.
  • Manipulation Check: any means by which an experimenter evaluates the efficacy of an experimental variable, that is, verifies that a manipulation affected the participants as intended. (Source because wiki’s definition was full of jargon)
  • Agreeableness (from the Big 5): a personality trait manifesting itself in individual behavioral characteristics that are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm, and considerate.
  • Intuitive Eating (Episode 18)
  • RE: McDonald’s smell marketing – Can’t find anything on it, could be entirely a myth
  • Contextual Tolerance (aka Behavioral Tolerance): tolerance depends on the environment in which the drug is administered, and not on the drug itself.
  • Pedantry: a person who is excessively concerned with formalism, accuracy, and precision, or one who makes an ostentatious and arrogant show of learning.
  • Set and Setting:  referring to a psychedelic drug experience, means one’s mindset (shortened to “set”) and the physical and social environment (the “setting”) in which the user has the experience. This is especially relevant for psychedelic experiences in either a therapeutic or recreational context.
  • Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker – It should be noted that there is significant controversy around Matthew Walker’s research, appearing as though he’s cherry picking and exaggerating facts. It seems like a “ends justify the means” approach; potentially lying to get people to take sleep more seriously. However, as the podcast Maintenance Phase pointed out: most people already know they need/want more sleep, but they’re not in a position to get it. They do a deeper dive, though they do tend towards a debunking/skeptical bent.
  • How to Reach Your Potential on HittingEject.com
  • Lao Tzu quote: Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.
  • Habit Stacking by S J Scott (no wiki for him)
  • Neitzsche quote: If you know the why, you can live any how.
  • Chris Voss (Never Split the Difference)
  • Motivational Interviewing: Readiness Ruler; “How ready are you to change this on a scale from 1-10?” then explore the answer.
  • Lever and Fulcrum: A simple machine consisting of a beam or rigid rod pivoted at a fixed hinge, or fulcrum.

Steve’s quick tips to avoid relying on willpower:

  • Meet your physical needs
  • Remove or Manage Triggers
  • Plan Ahead
  • Finding Your Why

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